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January 24, 2014

It's tough to say what you really did see

The Daily Star

---- — Every once in a while it’s fun just to open that proverbial can of worms and see what comes out.

The other day I was shopping in Hannaford’s and someone told me he had seen a mountain lion last fall I wasn’t going to burst his bubble, so I listened intently to his story.

There have been many sightings of mountain lions in the area over the years. In the Milford area, a large, tawny colored cat was seen by quite a few people. If you ask those people today, they’ll say they saw a cougar.

I’m sure they did. Many dismiss the sightings, claiming it was released from a small campground in the area. My friend John kept one as a pet for many years. That cat never ran wild and was never released.

While hunting near Long Pond in the Adirondacks one winter day, I came across a set of what I believed to be cougar tracks in the snow. They were quite large and I could see where its tail had occasionally dragged in the deep snow.

I followed the tracks for a mile or so, but it decided to head toward Indian Lake instead of Speculator. We went to Charlie John’s Store in town that evening. A large sign was taped to the window, asking people to report all mountain lion sightings to a particular phone number.

When my wife and I ran Woodland Outfitters, a fellow came in several times and said he’d seen a black panther crossing the road near Laurens. But when a trapper brought in a fisher to have mounted, he said, “That’s what I saw!”

Back in 2011, a cougar was killed on the highway in Connecticut. It was confirmed with DNA that it had wandered all the way from South Dakota. This was a young, 140-pound male cat that didn’t have a mate. I wonder if he wandered all those miles just to find a girlfriend. As my wife would say, “Typical male.”

Recently, a group called PROTECT the Adirondacks joined the program Cougar Watch to collect data and map sightings of cougars in the Adirondack Park. Oh, they’ll get lots of input, but a mountain lion is very elusive and requires a lot of food to survive. With the lack of deer in most areas in the north woods, those big cats will have trouble keeping their stomachs full.

I hunted elk many times on a ranch in western Colorado. Cougars are quite abundant in that area, yet anyone hardly ever sees one. Even Ned, who has lived there all his life, will go years between sightings. Why? They don’t live in populated areas. They don’t like people.

Old John Vodron, an Adirondack legend in the Wells/Speculator area, was a logger and a guide for many years. He’d tell us many a tale about cougars in the Adirondacks while sitting in camp at night.

He was “carrying a deer back to camp one night and a mountain lion followed me down the trail. It snarled and growled but stayed behind me just out of sight. After going a couple miles, I stopped and cut the front leg off my deer and threw it behind me. That was the only way I made it back to camp unscathed.”

If that story wasn’t good enough, John had a dozen more just like it. Like being “face-to-face with that angry, old cougar that was just on the other side of the log from me. He had his ears back and those big teeth ... “ You get the picture.

So, do mountains lions live in New York? No.

But do they pass through looking for a mate or some new territory? Probably.

Did you actually see one, though?

I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at